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When I started the training to be an EMT, the one requirement they set for equipment was a watch with a second hand or display. At the time I didn’t wear a watch, so I headed on over to County Comm and picked out the cheapest watch they had. Little did I know I had just purchased the perfect wristwatch…

Yes, I’m wasting a perfectly good post on a review of a watch. Deal with it.

There’s no good way to adequately describe the back of an ambulance when you’re rolling with lights and sirens. Trust me, I just tried for the last 10 minutes. Its a maddening world of chaos and disorder, and even the simplest of tasks is made damn near impossible by the twists and bumps of the road. My first day I thought the dial on the BP cuff was laughably large — until I tried to use it on a patient for the first time. Simplicity and readability are the keys to getting the information you need quickly and efficiently, and that’s something this watch has in spades.

There are no “extras” on this watch. There are 12 principal numbers, 60 hash marks, 3 hands and that’s about it. Which makes it absolutely perfect. Combine the simple design with the white on black color scheme and it makes reading the watch dead simple even in bad lighting. I can remember one night when I was taking a pulse at an accident scene and was reading my watch just fine by the lights of the passing cars — something a “modern” LED watch would have had an issue with.

Speaking of issues with LED watches, let me just take a second and explain the awesomeness that is the analogue watch for the medical professional. If you’re using an LED watch, you not only have to mentally calculate the difference between the current time and when you will stop taking the pulse, but you need to remember that number and count the heartbeats at the same time. Its a lot to keep in your head in a crisis. With an analogue watch all you need to do is figure out how far along the second had will be when you need to sop counting, and then just wait for the second hand to pass by that spot. All you’re doing at that point is counting the heartbeats, which can be hard enough. The major tick marks on this watch make it MUCH easier — 3 tick marks from now (15 seconds), stop counting and multiply by four.

The watch is extremely readable in the light, but even in the dead of night the watch comes through. Tritium in vials placed on the major markings and hands are constantly glowing, meaning that when the tones drop at o’ dark thirty you can quickly check your watch, make sure your shift has ended, and laugh at the day shift from your comfy bed as they roll to yet another LOLDFO.

The reason that you could find it in the dead of night was that you never had to take it off. The lightweight construction and comfortable nylon wristband means that it feels almost weightless and perfectly comfortable. Then again the only thing I ever took off to go to bed were my boots, so your mileage may vary.

Speaking of the construction, the first thing you notice about the watch (after the awesome dial) is that damn near everything is plastic. From the ring around the dial to the glass over the face, everything that could be made from dead dinosaurs has been. And while that does ┬ácheapen the watch a bit, in my mind it makes it a lot easier to maintain as well. The glass won’t break, and if it ever gets a scratch you can ignore it or melt it back into place.

Which brings me to probably the second best feature: the replacement cost. These watches were made on contract to the U.S. government and are being sold as surplus, meaning that they are absolutely dirt cheap. I picked mine up for $100, but CC seems to have sold out. They’re still available if you know where to look, though.

This watch has survived EMT training, years of use and abuse in the field, most of firefighter training, and daily wear and tear. I challenge you to find a better watch for the money.

GSA Navigator Watch
NSN: 6645-01-364-4042
Movement: Heavy-duty quartz
Altitude: 35,000
Water: Resistant
Band: 20mm
Retail: $100 ($80 street)

Overall rating: * * * * *
Cheap, reliable, functional, and lightweight. Sounds like a Yugoslavian M57 handgun (happy RF?), but its actually the perfect watch.

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  1. Better then the $30-$50 Timex or Victornox watches in the “super deals” section of the Campmor flyer?

  2. While I’m sure the watch is great, I’ve had issues with County Comm repairing and sending a defective watch back into my hands.

    And I’m not the only one with issues with their customer service.

  3. While I’m sure the watch is great, I’ve had issues with County Comm repairing and sending a defective watch back into my hands.

    And I’m not the only one with issues with their customer service.


  4. Nice watch! But a quick Google search turned up very few listings with prices running $195 to $225.

  5. At that price I would pick up a used suunto vector at an authorized reseller, or heck, just cough up the $250 for a new suunto vector. Have had mine for 5 years, taken it through hell and back. Never even a hicup in its operation. Has a second “hand” (bars moving around the outside of the watch face), compass, altimeter, barometer, and thermometer. Also water proof. This may be a little “tacticool” for some, but with the amount of time I spend outdoors, it was well worth the money.

  6. Timex Camper. $25 to $55 on Amazon, and a deal at twice the price. If it was good enough for Macgyver, it’s good enough for you.

    I’ve gotten out of the watch habit since I started carrying pagers and cell phones, but it may be time to get back into the habit. I’ll ask my mother for another Timex Camper for Christmas.

    • When I was a teenager, I asked my father for a timex for Christmas, not because it was cheap but because “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” He bought me an Omega. Nice watch, day date, self winding. I broke it of course. The last time was only four days after I got it back from the jeweler for its last repair. Eventually I bought a Timex. It lasted for years. The only thing that competes in toughness, for my money, is a Seiko.

  7. This watch has nothing on a Casio G-shock with solar power, daily radio time update, shock protection, water protection, calendar, stopwatch, 6 alarms, time zones, etc etc etc. Need I go on? ­čśÇ

  8. This makes me think of the old Accutron Doctor’s Watch (aka “the Pulsation). It essentially used a specialized tachymeter scale. As the sweep (and those old Accutrons had great sweep seconds, 300 steps per second!) passed 12 or 6 you’d could 20 pulses and then read the patient’s pulse directly. Not a very EMT friendly watch though.

  9. I got mine issued in prep for a trip to the “Box” 14 Sept 2001. Still running strong.

  10. Nice watch, but given you can acquire a nice Casio G-Shock for about the same price ($100)… hmmm, I dunno.

    • Someone else who didn’t read, or at least didn’t get the point of, the post.

      G-Shocks are nice watches (some of them, anyway), but not one of them meets the basic criteria that Nick praised this watch for, primary among which were that it was analog, uncluttered, and easy to read. There are only about 4 styles of G-Shock that are analog, and 3 of those are cluttered with so much extra gee whiz stuff on their dial that it’s hard to even see the hands. The closest one in appearance to the GSA (big bold numbers and indicator marks, and not much else) is an Aviation GW4000 series, and it’s about $400.

  11. How the hell has no one mentioned Luminox for tough, uncluttered, analog watch with tritium illumination? I’ve had mine for nine years now and the only things needing to be replaced are the band after a dirt bike accident that tore it off (better than not breaking the band and breaking the watch case or seriously injuring me by snagging) and the glass that someone’s kid shot with a gas powered airsoft gun. The bezel has solid, audible clicks and I use it constantly to mark times for trending as well as other things when I’m too busy to write them down.

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